Varirty day at Harrington

Industry representatives look over some of the test plots on display during variety day held recently at Harrington Farm. Both Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the PEI Potato Board had test plots on display and the event attracted a large crowd of industry and government representatives.

Representatives of the potato industry had a chance recently to view some potential new varieties that could someday find their way into Island fields.

Close to 50 industry representatives took the opportunity to take part in the annual Variety Day at Harrington Farm showcased potential entries for the Accelerated Release program of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, variety trials conducted by the PEI Potato Board, as well as a tour of the organic potato acreage. There was also a chance to view a soil building rotation trial being conducted in conjunction with the Enhanced Agronomy Initiative-- a fund established in 2016 by processing growers.

Dr. Benoit Bizimingu from the Potato Research Centre of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Fredericton was once again on hand for the event. He explained many of the varieties under consideration have been selected at his centre and at the Vauxhall Research Breeding Substation in Alberta.

"These varieties are also being tested at six other sites across the country so we can see how they perform in various regions and growing conditions", he explained.

The Harrington trial includes 32 fresh market varieties, eight chip selections and 19 potential varieties for the French fry market.

The Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada scientist said it is vital to hold events like the variety day to garner feedback from the industry.

"Our goal is to make sure we are developing varieties that the industry wants and that are going to put money in their pocket," he said.

With climate change now a major consideration for both research and industry, Dr. Bizimungu said it is vital varieties are tested in a number of growing conditions across the country. He explained that just because a variety grew well this year in Alberta, for example, doesn't mean it will grow well in PEI. In addition to the soil being different, it was a relatively average growing season in the western province this year after two extremely wet seasons in 2015 and 2016. By contrast, PEI had a significant dry spell that lasted over a month.

Mary Kay Stonier of the PEI Potato Board noted their trial includes previously released selections under the Accelerated Release program. There are also private varieties from the Potato Variety Management Institute, Parkland Seed Potatoes, Real Potatoes, Cygnet and McCardle Brothers.

Sonier said the industry trial is often the next step for potatoes under the Accelerated Release program. Dr. Bizimingu agreed, saying it is vital the research centre work with industry to ensure they are developing varieties both growers and the marketplace want.

Turning to the organic acreage, David Main of Agriculture and Agri Food Canada said it is grown in a four year rotation with barley, clover and brown mustard. Main said the varieties chosen for the organic plot were selected at the Potato Research Centre in Fredericton and includes a combination of both processing and fresh market varieties. This is the fourth year the farm has been growing organic potatoes and he said this year's yields will likely be down somewhat due to dry conditions in July. "We are now developing some data over a number of years," he said. "That is so vital since conditions can vary significantly from one year to the next."

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